Backcountry Itinerary & Emergency Communication Plan

Before heading out on any wilderness romp, you should always designate an emergency point of contact (EPOC) that knows your plan and knows when and how to engage emergency services should you fail to communicate a safe return.

For me, that is usually my wife or one of my adult children. I share with them my full itinerary, including the route I plan to travel, where I plan to set up camp, and even optional day hikes I might take if I am basecamping.  And I give them clear instructions on when they should call for help and who they should call for help.

Hopefully, your EPOC will never need to call for help. But if they do, consider that they will be worried and even when just slightly nervous it can be difficult to collect your thoughts, let alone important information to convey to first responders.  So, I also include details about my car, where it is parked, the color of my tent and my clothing, and anything else that could potentially be useful should an actual search be needed.

I gather all of this information into a single document which I print out and leave in an obvious location where my EPOC knows where to find it. For me that happens to be my dining room table as it isn’t typically used except when entertaining and so there is low likelihood that the document will be moved and misplaced.

Notes on Usage

The version of the plan I am providing here has been created as an Adobe Acrobat Form. It may open in your browser, but to make the best use of it you may need to download it to your computer and then open it with Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Expected Return Time

When filling out the Expected Return Time, give yourself A LOT of extra time to allow for a change of plans and non-emergency delays. The reality is that this plan will likely only come into effect and be useful if you are lost or fully incapacitated. The execution of a search and rescue effort isn’t the same as a rapid EMT dispatch from 911. It is unlikely that there will be a difference in outcome between a call at 5pm and call at 8pm.

So, I will typically figure out the time I truly expect to be at the trailhead or the nearest place with cellular coverage and add about eight hours. This is not the time I intend to be home, but rather the time by which I must communicate with the EPOC. I typically do that as soon as I reach my car and can make contact via cellular. I do carry an inReach and will communicate that way as well.  In either case though, I am clearly communicating that I am done and their responsibilities for tracking my safe return have ended.

Emergency Contacts

Who does your EPOC call if you don’t communicate a safe return? I usually list contacts like the various park authorities / ranger stations or local law enforcement for the general area of travel. Search and Rescue efforts are often coordinated under the command of county sheriff offices so they are likely to have known escalation procedures. If I am traveling as part of a club or organization I will also include their emergency contact or hotline information.

Sat / Radio

I always carry an inReach emergency communicator. Unfortunately, Garmin does not assign a dedicated phone number to each user so an external party can only initiate a conversation with you if they have access to your MapShare page. However, Garmin does assign a unique ID for inReach to inReach communication so I typically will include this information as it can be useful to Search and Rescue and Garmin’s

Backcountry Itinerary & Emergency Communication Plan

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *